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Guam might have to return to the feds $58.7 million in unused Covid funds



By Mar-Vic Cagurangan


Against the backdrop of unfinished sanitation and repairs at public schools, Guam still has $57.8 million in unused grant money from the Education Stabilization Fund, which must be returned to the federal government unless it is earmarked before the end of the month.


From 2020 to 2023, the Guam Department of Education received a total of $152 million through two rounds of ESF funding established under the CARES Act to ease the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on schools.


The unexpended funds accounted for more than half of the $110 million received by the department through the second round of ESF funding for the grant period between Jan. 13, 2021 and Sept. 30, 2022.


“As of June 30, 2023, GDOE has utilized $51,774,739, leaving a balance of $58,788,548,” according to the Office of Public Accountability.


According to the U.S. Department of Education's FAQ sheet, the ESF II funds must be obligated by Sept. 30, 2023.


The CARES Act requires that any funds unused within a year after receiving the award must be returned to the federal government for reallocation to other states.

And the clock is ticking.


According to the U.S. Department of Education, a recipient state or territory may request an extension for the liquidation of unused funds provided they have been allotted for specific purposes prior to the spending deadline.


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“The department does not have the authority to extend the period of obligation. Therefore, to ensure that the liquidation extension request encompasses only those expenses that have been properly obligated by the statutory obligation date,” the federal education agency's FAQ states.


It wasn’t clear as of this writing if the remaining ESF II balance has been set aside for any expenditure list or designated for sub-recipients.


“Verification of properly obligated funds is a standard expectation of liquidation extension requests involving federal funds," the federal education agency said. "The extension of a liquidation period is for expenses that have been properly obligated by the end of the grant’s obligation period.”


The first round of ESF funding, amounting to $41 million, was set for disbursement from May 28, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021. “All funds allocated to ESF I have been fully expended as of June 30, 2023,” the OPA said.


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The ESF was established under the CARES Act to provide emergency support for local educational agencies deemed to have been most significantly impacted by coronavirus.


The Guam education department, as the primary grant recipient of the ESF funding, disbursed the funds to various educational institutions, including public, private and charter schools.


According to OPA, 12 organizations collectively expended over

$90 million of the ESF.


The OPA report showed that the top three organizations with the highest expenditures were the Public Schools District ($81.9 million), the Office of Catholic Education ($4.5 million) and the State Administration ($1.9 million).


Of the total amount spent, 78 percent was used for the acquisition of supplies & equipment including personal protective equipment such as latex exam gloves, face masks and alcohol sanitizer. Additional purchases under this category included air conditioning units, welding supplies, laptops and student desks and chairs.


The second largest expenditure, totaling $15.6 million was dedicated to capital and contractual spending that covered air conditioning maintenance, custodial services and software solutions such as Zoom for video communication, Nearpod for learning management, Pikmykid for school dismissal and Tynker for coding.


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In its April 11, 2022 report, Guam's education department cited the stumbling blocks to the implementation of ESF-funded projects and prompt delivery of support services.


The list of challenges included:

  • The loss of project personnel due to the additional workload that professional and administrative staff had to take;

  • A shrunken vendor pool that caused a lack of or minimal responses to public biddings and solicitations for projects;

  • Multiple requests for extensions by potential vendors for deliveries and cancellation of orders due to lack of supply from manufacturers; and

  • Additional time to an already lengthy procurement process.

The OPA released the flash report on ESF amid the government of Guam's scramble over the public schools' struggle to comply with the Department of Public Health and Social Services' sanitation rules and regulations.



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